TWO British terror suspects have appeared in a US court charged over the beheadings of Western hostages. Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh are accused of being involved in a “brutal hostage-taking scheme” that resulted in the deaths of four American citizens, as well as British and Japanese nationals, in Syria.

The pair, who grew up in London and are said to have been part of a cell of executioners known as The Beatles because of their British accents, appeared via video link from prison at a hearing in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, yesterday.

At one point during the hearing, a handcuffed Elsheikh, who wore a green T-shirt and a blue surgical mask, asked whether he was under arrest and was informed by the magistrate that he was.

When asked if he wanted to hire his own lawyer or have one appointed, the 32-year-old said: “I don’t know. I haven’t had time to consult.”

Kotey, 36, also asked about his status, saying: “I’m just waiting to be briefed on what’s going on. This is all kind of foreign to me.”

A detention hearing and arraignment were scheduled for today but the lawyer appointed to represent the pair said he might ask for a delay to allow time to go over the charges with the defendants.

The eight-count indictment against the men was announced earlier by the US justice department at a press briefing ahead of the court hearing, with John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, telling reporters the pair would “face justice for the depraved acts alleged against them in the indictment”.

The cell, said to be made up of ringleader Mohammed Emwazi, known as Jihadi John, Aine Davis, Kotey and Elsheikh, is allegedly responsible for the killings of a number of Western captives, including Britons Alan Henning and David Haines.

Former aircraft engineer and humanitarian Mr Haines, 44, from Perth in Scotland, was beheaded in Syria in 2014 after being held prisoner for 18 months.

Cab driver-turned-aid worker Mr Henning, 47, from Lancashire, was also beheaded in 2014 after being captured by extremists in Syria. Mr Haines’s brother Mike said: “The pain we experienced as families was excruciating when we lost our loved ones, and the last three years have been a long, horrible waiting game.

“I, like the other families, am relieved that the fate of these two men is closer to being decided but this is just the beginning.”

Listing details from the charging document, G Zachary Terwilliger, the US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, told reporters: “These alleged terrorists both grew up in the United Kingdom where they became radicalised.

“Their role within the Isis terrorist organisation was that of being part of a brutal hostage-taking scheme by which American, European and Asian citizens were taken hostage from approximately 2012 to 2015.

“The brutal acts of beheading were captured by the Isis media propaganda machine and disseminated to achieve their aims of Jihad.”

As part of the conspiracy “their vicious acts and those of co-conspirators” are alleged to include forced witnessing of murders, mock executions, shocks via electric taser and beatings among other brutal acts, he said.

Under American law, the pair may be held liable for the “foreseeable acts of their co-conspirators” that took place during the course of the conspiracy – including facilitating hostage taking, ransom demands, abuse and the murder of Americans, Europeans and Asian citizens to “further their terrorist agenda and that of Isis”, reporters were told.

If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. Mr Terwilliger added: “Kotey and Elsheikh are presumed innocent unless, and until, proven otherwise.”

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said they were “pleased that the process of delivering justice for the victims and their families has begun in the US”.